Diseases such as diabetes, cancer, multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer’s pose a tremendous challenge to modern medicine. Societies are ageing around the world, yet today's elders wish to remain active and healthy, and live useful lives for as long as possible. How can this contradiction be resolved?
Many in the medical world are examining the potential of nanomedicine. Nanomedicine, the application of nanotechnology to human healthcare, offers numerous potential pathways to improving medical diagnosis and therapy and even to regenerate tissues and organs. It holds out the possibility of personalised yet more affordable healthcare while at the same time offering an improved quality of life for everyone. Nanomedicine is also a strategic issue for the competitive position of the healthcare industry in Europe. During the first four Calls of EU Framework Programme 7 in the years 2007-2010, the NMP Progamme invested about 265 Million Euro in nanomedicine related research projects. This concerned especially the development of targeted nanopharmaceuticals and nanodiagnostics technologies, biomaterials for implants and regenerative medicine and the development of intelligent prostheses with neural interfaces that can provide sensing and be actuated by brain activity.
The European Technology Platform for Nanomedicine is an important industry-led forum that provides inputs for the research priorities to be addressed and gives advice on innovation related policy for the nanomedicine field. Its members are European organisations that are actively researching the field of nanomedicine and working together to define research priorities and identify the issues that are important to get research results to patients.
Nanomedicine applications range from the medical use of nanomaterials to nanoelectronic biosensors and molecular nanotechnology. To medical practitioners and pharmaceutical developers, nanomedicine offers a huge range of potential new treatment possibilities, from nano-scale devices that can swim inside the colon and investigate polyps, to nanodrugs capable of targeting tumours inside the human brain, all with the potential of hugely reduced side effects compared to present-day treatments.
Nanomedicine typically relies on tiny nanoparticles or nano-transporters that act as drug carriers, protecting the drug being carried against degradation or enhancing its uptake by the body. By modifying the surface of these nanoparticles or nano-transporters to make them function in a similar way to other cells in the human body, drugs can be delivered to almost the exact site where they are needed.
Such precision will give the physician the possibility of prescribing much lower drug doses, confident in the knowledge that the drug will attack the diseased cells or tissues only. This possibility is of huge interest in the medical world, since it increases the likelihood of satisfactory outcomes while reducing the side-effects prevalent with strong (especially anti-cancer) drugs.
Yet health policymakers remain cautious about steaming full ahead into a field that still has many question-marks in the form of toxicity or the difficulties of handling nano-scale waste. Which is why the EU is applying so much research into investigating the possibilities of these technologies, to determine the most promising routes for future investigation and development into market products and services.